‘The French woman that knew him and owed all her losses to him; the Indian that picked him up, cut and muddy on the street, and played dice with him; they neither of ‘em doubted that Talleyrand was something by himself—appearances notwithstanding.’
    ‘And was he something by himself?’ asked Una.
   Pharaoh began to laugh, but stopped. ‘The way I look at it,’he said, ‘Talleyrand was one of just three men in this world who are quite by themselves. Big Hand I put first, because I’ve seen him.’
   ‘Ay,’ said Puck. ‘I’m sorry we lost him out of Old England. Who d’you put second?’
   ‘Talleyrand: maybe because I’ve seen him too,’ said Pharaoh.
   ‘Who’s third?’said Puck.
   ‘Boney--even though I’ve seen him.’
    ‘Whew!’ said Puck. ‘Every man has his own weights and measures, but that’s queer reckoning.’     ‘Boney?’ said Una. ‘You don’t mean you’ve ever met Napoleon Bonaparte?’

This is from Rewards and Fairies, "A Priest in Spite of Himself" by Kipling. http://pinkmonkey.com/dl/library1/digi300.pdf

What is the meaning of "something by oneself" ?

I am glad if some one kindly teach me.

1 Answer 1


By himself here is a metaphorical extension of the ordinary meaning "alone". Pharaoh regards Washington, Talleyrand and Napoleon as set apart from all other people, not physically but 'categorically': each of them is so extraordinary and so different from other people that he is "by himself" in a class with no other members.

  • a more common, modern usage is to say "he was in a class by himself" .. meaning the same thing
    – vulcan_
    May 30, 2018 at 17:16

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